Tunawa Leah

Lonely and afraid, you tremble when he motions you to come with his AK-47 rifle. He’s killed five of your classmates in recent days. Are you next to die? His face covered with a dark balaclava; approaching, you see his cold, lifeless, soulless eyes peering at you.

You wonder, Is he in pain from chewing Khat that has stained and is rotting his teeth? Why does he always wear a mask? Why does he hide himself? He barks his command to you; “Get on the truck! You may go home to your family.” As you turn, his bony fingers dig into your shoulder, spinning you around to face him again. His dark eyes, like those of a shark, pierce your soul. You hear delight in his voice as he demands “You must first claim your allegiance to Allah!” You sense the evil smile behind his words.

”Do this and you can go home.” The moment of decision has come. Terrified, mistreated, beaten, and starved for weeks now, your freedom is but a few steps away. In your small voice, you utter “I cannot. I am a Christian.”

“I will kill you if you do not do this!” he demands. Do you rip yourself from his grasp and run for the truck? Perhaps surrender your beliefs and tell him what he wants to hear? You know it’s not true, but you can be free. In this moment, what do you do?

Fourteen-year-old Leah Sharibu stood on her Christian faith and her belief in Christ. She refused to renounce her faith and claim allegiance to Islam. Because of her decision, now sixteen-year-old Leah remains a prisoner of Boko Haram somewhere in Nigeria. Deemed a “Slave for Life” by their supposed sharia law, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has designated Leah a Religious Prisoner of Conscience. You can read more about this faith-filled child at https://www.uscirf.gov/leah-sharibu-0.

I learned about Leah at a missions meeting this past October. As the story unfolded, I remembered a twenty-second news story. Better known as Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa terrorists kidnapped “the Dapchi girls” from their school on February 19, 2018. Not long afterwards, the news reported their release. Here’s what western news media didn’t, to my knowledge, report to us.

On the fateful day of the attack on the Dapchi school in Nigeria, ISIS-WA terrorists kidnapped one hundred ten young girls. Five were subsequently murdered. The terrorists later released one hundred four of them (mostly Muslim) after they claimed allegiance to Islam. One brave young teen stared into the face of hatred and terror to claim Christianity as her faith and Christ as her Savior. Leah Sharibu remains captive today because she refuses to renounce her faith in Christ.

I learned this on a crisp fall morning as I listened to Mrs. Rebecca Sharibu, Leah’s mother; share this heart-wrenching story with our global missions team through her interpreter. Days earlier, Mrs. Sharibu shared this same story with Vice President Mike Pence and congressional leaders in Washington, DC; hoping to bring attention to her family’s plight. What struck me as I met this brave woman before the meeting began, and throughout her speech, was her brokenness. I sensed in her not a spirit of fear from being in a strange country, surrounded by people speaking a strange language, but one of a weary warrior.

As she spoke, her soul cried out in anguish; her words bringing us into this horrific nightmare. Seldom lifting her head during our time together, we heard her sorrow and watched the tears fall from her tortured face. I wondered, How many more times must she tell this terrible story before they return her precious child? A pause signals her need to summon the courage to go on with her talk. How painful it must be for a parent to speak for a beloved child who is frightened, alone, imprisoned in some undisclosed location, with her condition unknown.

Listening as my heart cried out for her family, Mrs. Sharibu stated something that will long stay in my memory. Ms. Gloria Samdi Puldu, Rebecca’s interpreter, struggled to speak as she translated her tear-filled words. “I do not know that in the face of such terror, my faith would be strong enough to resist my armed captor. I do not know if my faith is that strong.” In that moment, in a quiet conference room in rural Connecticut, I felt God touching the heart of every attendee. I cannot tell you if there were any dry eyes in that instant. I can assure you mine, the eyes of a once-proud elite and battle-hardened warrior, were not.

Is your faith strong enough to withstand the trial? #StandUpForChrist Click To Tweet

As Rebecca Sharibu neared the end of her presentation, a mother’s heartfelt plea rang out. With hands raised to heaven, her face looking upward, she asked “Ku chigaba da tunawa da Leah a cikin audwowin ku.” Translated from her native Hausa language, her request was “Please continue to remember Leah in your prayers.” With that simple plea, the entire room stood as we joined hands and spontaneously prayed for God’s divine protection and resolution of this family’s horrific trial.

Following our meeting, I asked permission to escort Mrs. Sharibu, Ms. Puldu, and others to our host’s Prayer Walk on the grounds of their company headquarters. Erected and dedicated some years earlier as a gift to the company’s founder by its employees, I had been introduced to this peaceful place over a year earlier. In fact, I visited here daily while working with our hosts on a challenging, time-constrained opportunity. I explained how this powerful place held a special connection for me to our God. Each afternoon, I would walk the path to the site and feel the stresses of the day being released a little more with each step. I shared with them how I spent a few moments at each stone, considering how the scripture verse written upon them applied to my life. As Gloria translated each stone, our tears flowed in the moment’s beauty.

Before returning inside, the five of us joined hands and once again prayed for Leah, her family, her captors, and God’s amazing grace. As I held this dear woman’s hand, I could feel the strength of her love for her daughter coursing through me. I silently asked God to help me find the words to bring her peace. Before leaving, Mrs. Sharibu held my hands in hers, looked into my eyes and quietly uttered “Tunawa Leah. Tunawa Leah.” Tunawa (pronounced too-nah-wah) is the Hausa word for Remember.

Please join with us in prayer for the safety and release of Leah Sharibu. #FreeLeah Click To Tweet

As I was driving back to the hotel after this powerful day of prayer and praise, the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 3:18 rang true in my heart. God revealed to me how when Christ’s love is in us, we must extend it in His power throughout the universe and not limit it to our little corner of this world. We do this when we join in righteous prayer. I ask that you join with me and others around the world in prayer for the safe return of Leah to her family. Please help me share the message to #FreeLeah.

God’s blessings,


34 thoughts on “Tunawa Leah”

  1. Your heartwrenching story about Leah will not be forgotten. We need to be ever mindful of our brethren who suffer and die for their faith in Jesus. God bless and hold close Leah and her family.
    I will remember Leah.

    1. Your words touch my heart my sweet friend. Thank you for sharing and praying for Leah and her family. I could not imagine what it must be like to face persecution like this. I pray each day we “Pre-Tribulation” Rapture believers will never have to face such persecution; yet when I look at some of the laws passed, or being brought forth, I see this same persecution coming to American shores sooner than many think. God’s blessings ma’am.

  2. Prayers for this mother and praying for God to work powerfully so that Leah’s captors will release her and cause no more harm.

    Thanks for sharing this story. It’s the first time I’ve heard anything about it.

    1. Amen Ms. Melinda. Her two-year anniversary of captivity will be next month. I pray fervently it never arrives. God’s blessings ma’am; and thank you for sharing this and praying with us.

  3. Oh my. This young girl truly represents the Bride of Christ. Giving up everything and enduring who knows what for her Savior. Her story touched my heart and made me she’d a few rears, too. May God bless and comfort Leah and her family. May He show Himself strong to Leah and rescue her from her captors! May God’s will be done to bring others to Christ through this young girl.

    1. Mine too Ms. Stephanie. Thank you for your willingness to share this family’s plight with your audience through retweeting and re-posting; much appreciated. Especially grateful for your willingness to take time to pray for this brave young lady and her family. I have a dear missionary friend headed to Nigeria in the near future. My prayers each day are that God sustain Leah and her family; and that He prick the heart of those holding her (much like He did Pharaoh) and she is released very soon. God’s blessings ma’am.

    1. God bless you gentle friend. I join with you on those prayers. Thank you so much for praying and for helping to share this message far and wide. I pray God sends this to the ends of the earth; so it might fall upon the ears, eyes, and hearts of the person God has anointed to grant His dear child freedom from this persecution and rewards for her faithfulness. I pray also that God grant me and my brothers and sisters in Christ that same power of faith needed to withstand our trials.

    1. It sure does Mr. Paul. Sometimes we just can’t find the words to help comfort someone in the midst of their grief like Mrs. Sharibu was. I think she saw our hearts that day; and knew how much we cared. Even though, I was so ineffective in expressing it to her in the moment I think. God’s blessings for sharing this message and praying for Miss Leah and her family sir.

  4. What powerful witnesses Leah and her family are. They have an amazing faith. Thank you for sharing this meaningful story. I prayed for Leah and all captives and for the captors as well–that they may have mercy and compassion–and find Jesus as their Savior.

    1. Thank you so much for your comments, sharing, and prayers Ms. Katherine. Something that really struck me hard during the time I spent with Mrs. Sharibu and her interpreter, along with so many others in the missions fields around the world, that day is this. When I look at how Christians are being persecuted. When I look at such abject poverty and hopelessness in the world. How then, can I not drop to my knees and thank my God for making me an American and blessing my nation and my life so much.

    1. This was one of my most difficult posts to write Ms. Candyce. I can’t imagine how I would react as a parent if that were my child. I tell myself I would have “gone to war” and probably cost both my and my daughter’s life, but that would not have honored her faith in God. I pray we can help honor Miss Leah’s, and her family’s, through our prayers.

  5. Thank you for sharing about this precious child of God and her family. Too often, we hear stories and they are soon forgotten as something else tragic happens. We need to keep Leah and all those held captive in our prayers and thoughts.

    1. We surely do Ms. Melissa. It seems they make the news for an evening or two, but are then forgotten. The USCRIF link I included in the posts lists current and released “Prisoners of Conscience” all around the world. My heart breaks when I think that our country could soon be facing persecution just like this in some areas. I sometimes wonder how we can sit by and see these atrocities happen and do so little. I understand we can’t be “the world’s Jimminy Cricket”, but we can apply so much more diplomatic pressure than we do I think. It’s a reflection of our desire to #StandUpForChrist

  6. What a powerful story of faith and standing up for Jesus! Praying for precious Leah and will continue to speak her name often before the throne of the Almighty God. I pray the Lord comforts her and for her ultimate release. It’s written in my prayer journal as a reminder to “remember.”

  7. J.D., You’ve stirred the heart of many with this and I hope many more will pray. It’s the kind of thing you have read to know what is going on in this world, but you hate to read it. Why can’t people just leave Christian’s alone. But God allows suffering to cause His church to grow. I truly believe that Christians in the USA will one-day soon learn this truth.

    1. Thanks for your comments and your prayers Mr. Ben. I too am afraid that if the apathetic approach to Christianity continues in this nation, we could one day face a very real threat of similar persecution, violence, and have to make a stand.

  8. Lori Ann Hatcher

    Thank you, J.D., for the opportunity to pray with you for Leah. May God strengthen her and her family to continue to be bright lights shining in dark places. Lord, spare her life, release her to her family, usher many souls into your kingdom because of her courageous witness. In the strong name of Jesus I ask, Amen.

    1. Oh my sweet friend; ’tis I that Thank You! I so appreciate you joining all of us in prayer for this precious child. I pray God continues to bless you for your steadfast obedience ma’am.

  9. This is one of the most powerful testimonies of faith I’ve read. I cannot imagine her mother’s grief. Thank you so much for sharing it. I’m praying for Leah.

    1. What a blessing you are Ms. Jeannie. Thank you so much for praying for Leah and her family. It was heart-wrenching to listen as her mama shared the story through her interpreter. Even her interpreter, who has told the story many times I suspect, fought to hold back tears. There was genuine grief and tears; no crocodiles in the room that day. Thank you for sharing, and especially for praying.

    1. She is a wonderful example of living out our faith I think Ms. Robin. Thank you for praying ma’am. I suspect we’ll continue praying for a resolution to this, if it be God’s will. God’s blessings young lady.

  10. I missed this post last week, but I’m so glad I found it this evening. What a stunning testimony. We take so much for granted in our country and avert our eyes from the plight of the persecuted church around the world. I will remember Leah.

    1. God bless you Ms. Dottie. You are always such a faithful friend ma’am. Thank you so much for commenting and adding your wisdom to our conversation. We often forget what is happening to fellow Christians around the world. I feel it our duty to stand up and lift them up in the hallways of heaven. We must shout to the world “This is my brother or sister you are harming, and I will not let this stand.” We must petition our God and stand on His promises to bring good from evil. I thank you so much for your prayers for little Miss Leah, her family, and the many others being persecuted around our world; some right here in America I’m afraid. God’s blessings sweet friend.

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